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Revisit 'I Am A Hotel' Leonard Cohen's forgotten musical from the eighties


Leonard Cohen is the epitome of a Renaissance Man. Although he became world-famous because of his pioneering and pivotal pop songs he was also an acclaimed novelist, an intriguing poet, a sometime Miami Vice villain and an all-round Casanova. As well as all that, it would appear he also had a small desire to see his work upon the theatre stage and on TV screens too. Below, we look at one of the few moments Cohen was able to achieve that feat with his forgotten musical I Am A Hotel.

The musical was the collaborative work of Cohen and Mark Shekter with direction helmed by Allan F. Nichols and is certainly one of the more curious moments in Leonard Cohen’s illustrious career. I Am A Hotel was a Canadian made for TV short musical film that used vignettes and Cohen’s compositions to tell the story of the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. While even a lot of Cohen’s fans will be unaware of the film, it did receive some acclaim, even picking up the Golden Rose international television award at the 1984 Montreux TV festival.

Leonard Cohen is widely credited with being one of the most literary songwriters in recent memory. The singer effortlessly drew on his spiralling wordplay to add touches of innovative intelligence to the folk world that was exploding in the sixties. He added a unique sense of perspective and a keen tongue to his weaponry and became a cult figure of adoration. Through his determination to always push himself artistically, Cohen was able to make brief forays into the other parts of the art world.

Though his role in Miami Vice is likely his most-watched piece of television work, we imagine that I Am A Hotel is the one he is most proud of. Based on his song ‘The Guests’—a track largely thought of as one of Cohen’s most overlooked classics from his album Recent Songs—it sees Cohen use the concept of a hotel as his own universe, articulately introducing themes of love, religion, humanity and artistic creation through the protagonists of his song.

It was not only the opening song on that album, but it also helped to inspire the entire musical with Cohen seeing the idea of a hotel as a vessel for his work. It turned his attention to writing I Am A Hotel and became the opening vignette’s soundtrack. The film is broken down into five short stories and follows the imagined life of the King Edward Hotel’s inhabitants.

The first, opening with ‘The Guests’ as a backing, sees all of the protagonists enter the hotel via the lobby and be shown to their rooms while friction begins between the manager and his wife. The next is titled ‘Memories’ which sees the bellboy pursue the chambermaid around the laundry room and ballroom. The third scene named ‘The Gypsy’s Wife’ sees the manger’s wife go dancing across the boardroom table while the fourth scene is backed by Cohen’s classic ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ and depicts two lovers trying but failing in the act itself. ‘Suzanne’ closes out the musical, as it did many shows before it, and sees the two couples reunited and dancing with one another.

Now, we’re not going to say that this is necessarily some of Cohen’s finest work. In fact, if you removed Cohen’s songs from the proceedings and replaced them with unknown ditties, then chances are this would be more than a little unwatchable. But, the fact that it does have those songs makes this another extension of Cohen’s artistic vision and is more than enjoyable because of it.

So sit back and enjoy Leonard Cohen’s forgotten musical I Am A Hotel.